An Euler diagram representing a definition of knowledge.

Last year I first learned of the word epistemology, which is “the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge.” How do we obtain knowledge? For secular learning, we go to school, or we take a class, or we read a book, etc. But as Mormons, we teach people they can “know” the church is true by praying and then feeling the Spirit as a confirmation that the church is true. As a missionary, I was always trying to get people to put Moroni’s challenge to the test, which says (Moroni 10:4-5, my own emphasis added):

4. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

5. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

If the Holy Ghost can tell us the truth of “all things” why do we even need to go to school? Couldn’t I in theory get perfect test scores if the Holy Ghost just told me all the answers? I did at one point think I had a spiritual witness that the LDS church was true. But maybe it depends on how “true” is defined. How did I think I had received an answer to my prayers? By the warm feelings I felt when reading or pondering the scriptures, or by the calm feelings I felt while worshipping in church. Maybe those feelings meant the church and its teachings resonated with me at the time. People have these same kinds of experiences in all different religions, not just the LDS church.

So sometimes “truth” is in the eye of the beholder. To all of these people, their path is true for them. For millions of people, the LDS church is “true,” but that doesn’t mean the Book of Mormon (or even the Bible) is literally true history, just like others’ spiritual witness of Islam or Scientology doesn’t make their scriptures or narratives literally true. I was recently told by a very strong believer in Mormonism that only in the LDS church can you find the fullness of the truth. I would tell him he has found the fullness for himself, but that might not be true for others. To a devout Hindu, Muslim or Catholic, Mormon teachings are not going to stir the same feelings that my devout Mormon friend has for the LDS church. I believe there are many different paths to spirituality, both in and out of organized religions. If people have found something that works for them, I see no need for them to change. How boring it would be if we all had the same beliefs! Our diversity of thought and opinions is something I find very beautiful and fascinating.


How Do We Know? — 2 Comments

  1. Your last sentence hit home for me, Steve. I agree! I must admit that I had to go to Steve Mould’s nerdy blog to discover the difference between Euler diagrams and Venn diagrams, though!

    • I didn’t realize that I didn’t know the difference between Venn and Euler until you mentioned it, and then I ended up at the same place to figure out the difference!

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